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Remembering the Iraq War’s bloodiest battle, 10 years later

Lance Cpl. Christopher Adlesperger and his squad burst into a house in the Iraqi city of Fallujah 10 years ago this month, and immediately came under a hail of machine-gun fire. The first Marine into the building, Lance Cpl. Erick Hodges, was killed immediately, and two other men were wounded. Adlesperger fought on, killing multiple insurgents with his M-16 rifle after he had been wounded by a hand grenade while attempting to make sure fellow injured troops received medical treatment.

Adlesperger’s bravery in the Nov. 10, 2004, firefight earned him the Navy Cross, the U.S. military’s second-highest award for valor in combat. He received it posthumously, however: He was killed in Fallujah on Dec. 9, 2004, as his unit was clearing another house in the city. He was 20 years old.

Adlesperger’s story illustrates the fierce combat that U.S. troops saw during the Second Battle of Fallujah, also known as Operation Al Fajr and Operation Phantom Fury. The battle spanned Nov. 7 to Dec. 24 in 2004, and is considered the bloodiest of the Iraq War.

On Friday, hundreds of veterans from the battle will gather at 10 a.m. at Camp Pendleton, Calif., to remember those killed in the battle and the sacrifice by those involved. The ceremony will be hosted by 1st Marine Division, which provided the majority of the forces involved.

“There are so many great stories from our accounts going building to building,” said Maj. Gen. Lawrence D. Nicholson, the division’s current commander. “Going building to building is so tough on infantry. Squads were going one block at a time, over and over, and just clearing these buildings.”

Eighty-two of the estimated 12,000 U.S. troops who took part in the battle were killed, and another 600 were wounded. Six Iraqi troops also were killed, and 52 more were wounded. U.S. military officials estimate that about 2,000 insurgents were killed, and another 1,200 captured. Some 3,500 to 4,000 enemy fighters were in the city when the fighting began, Nicholson said.

The event on Friday will include retired Lt. Gen. Richard Natonski, the top U.S. general in the battle, and most of the regimental and battalion commanders. From private to general, all those who were involved are invited to attend; the event is open to others as well. Through a Marine spokesman, Natonski declined to comment ahead of the ceremony.

The city of Fallujah was eventually turned over to the Iraqi government. It fell to Islamic State militants this January, as they swept across western Iraq. Nicholson said veterans of Phantom Fury have their own opinions about that, but are focusing the event this week on the sacrifices and heroism of those involved in 2004.

“I want to focus this on the warriors and the sacrifices that they made,” the general said. “I think the theme of this, really, is ‘We did our job, and we did it damn well.’ ”

Below are additional photographs from the battle: